RNLB Duncan

RNLB Duncan was the first RNLI lifeboat placed on station in the English coastal town of Sheringham in the county of Norfolk, United Kingdom.[2] The arrival of this lifeboat also coincided with the construction of the first RNLI lifeboat station. The station and boat worked in conjunction with the already established private[3] Fishermans lifeboat station[4] also in the town.

United Kingdom
Name: Duncan
Namesake: Named after the family of Mrs Agnes Fraser (née Duncan)
Owner: Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI)
Builder: Forrest & Son of Limehouse[1]
Official Number:
Donor:Gift of Mrs Agnes Fraser (née Duncan) in memory of her father and uncle
Cost: £345
Yard number: Unknown
Acquired: 1867
Decommissioned: 1886
In service: 1867 to 1886
General characteristics
Type: Self-righting type
Length: 36 ft 0 in (10.97 m) overall
Beam: 9 ft 0 in (2.74 m)
Installed power: Twelve-oared


In the mid-1850s the RNLI had been reformed and renamed and the institution and plans were made to expand the service around the country. During there expansion in the 1850’3 and 1860’s the institution began to integrate many of the local and private life saving organizations which had sprung up around the country. The institution also developed new improved designs of lifeboats. This included the newly developed self-righting lifeboat and the RNLI planned to place a new station and lifeboat in the town of Sheringham. Surprisingly there was no plan to integrate the private fisherman’s lifeboat association, leaving Sheringham in the unusual situation of having two lifeboat services.

The new station

In April 1866 the RNLI sent their assistant inspector to Sheringham to assess the situation in the town. Captain David Robertson[5] made his recommendation for a station to be placed within the town. He also met members of the Upcher family who had already provided funds and organization for the existing fisherman’s lifeboat. Henry Upcher came to an agreement to provide land at East Cliff, opposite a coal yard for the construction of a lifeboat station. The cost was £251 and was built by J Francis of Cromer. The station was completed by 1867 and was of brick construction complete with a lecture room on the second floor. The station was situated behind an area called The Mo (The site today occupied by Sheringham Museum,[6][7] called The Mo) and a long timber slipway was built from the promenade down to the beach.

The new lifeboat

The new lifeboat placed on station was called RNLB Duncan[8] and she arrived on station on 31 July 1867 and had arrived from the boatyard of T&W Forestt of Limehouse in London by train completing the final stage by road. With the lifeboat came a launch carriage and she was first launched from Sheringham on the next day. Funding for the new lifeboat was provided from the gift of Mrs Agnes Fraser (née Duncan)[8] and was made in the memory of her father and uncle.


The new lifeboat was of a self-righting, pulling and sailing type[9] and was 36 ft 0 in (10.97 m) in length and a beam of 9 ft 0 in (2.74 m). The design encompassed air cases for reserve buoyancy, a low centre of gravity (iron drop keel), the ability to self-bail (relieving valves) and water ballast tanks which gave the lifeboat stability and the ability to self-right achieved as a result of the combination of these features.[9]


The Duncan was on station at Sheringham for a total of nineteen years between 1867 and 1877[8] and during that time she was launched to seven effective rescues.[8] This record was affected by the difficulties that soon became apparent, of launching the lifeboat from its ill-conceived positioning at East Cliff. During this period launch access to the sea was never easy and frequent repair and alterations were needed to the launch route and gangway. On several occasions the gangway was damaged and swept away by the stormy seas. In 1877[8] the gangway was so badly damaged that it required re-building. The private lifeboat Augusta which also served the town at this time was much lighter which gave her an advantage when launches were required in inclement weather.[8] The Augusta would often be afloat long before the Duncan and so was able to provide assistance quicker and more often than the Duncan, nonetheless the RNLI lifeboat was well liked by the fishermen and crews of Sheringham.[8]

First service

The Duncan's first successful service took place on 3 December 1867[8] when she was launched to rescue the schooner Hero of Maldon. The schooner had become stranded in a north-easterly wind just of the coast close to Beeston Hill. The lifeboat, which at one point ran aground herself, saved the schooner's crew of three. Despite here grounding the RNLI's report on the rescue it was stated The behaviour of the lifeboat amidst the heavy breakers elicited the admiration of her crew, who expressed the greatest confidence in her.[8]

Last service

The Duncan's last successful service took place on 6 December 1882[8] when she was launched in response to a distress signals sent out by the Swedish barque Caroline who was on her way from Hull to Trelleborg. Along with the launch of the Duncan, the Augusta was also launched. The Caroline had lost her sails and spar in the heavy weather and together the two lifeboats escorted the barque to Grimsby arriving there the following day.[8]


On 4 October 1883[8] the Duncan was called to rescue the Schooner Alpha. The lifeboat was unable to be launched from her station or from an alternative launch site at East Runton to help the stricken vessel. The crews were eventually rescued from the beach. By 1885 the Duncan was a cause of concern to the towns' lifeboat men. It had become apparent to these men that the Duncan was no longer suitable. In June 1885[8] a meeting was arranged by the local committee of the lifeboat and fishermen. So concerned were these men that 150 men attended. A request was formulised and sent to the RNLI asking for a new lighter boat with a longer keel and wider beam that would be more suitable for the difficult launch situation in the town. Duncan was replaced in 1885 by RNLB William Bennett (ON 11).[8]

Coxswains of the Duncan

During the period of time that Duncan was on station at Sheringham there were five Coxswains and they were as follows

  • Edmund 'Pye' West, 1867 to 1868
  • John Grice, 1869
  • William 'Buck' Craske, 1870 to 1873
  • Abraham Cooper, 1874
  • Robert 'Philoloo' Cooper, 1875 to 1886

Service and rescues

RNLB Duncan
Date Casualty Lives saved
3 December Schooner Hero of Maldon 3
20 March Schooner Frances Ann of Goole. 3
19 October Schooner Trusty of Boston 3
22 October Ship William Forthingham of New York City, assisted to save vessel
10 October Fishing smack Gleaner 2
14 April Schooner Wells of Goole, saved vessel 5
21 May Fishing boat, stood by
6 December Barque Carolina of Sweden, escorted to safety
Preceded by

RNLB Duncan

1867 to 1886
Succeeded by

RNLB William Bennett (ON 11)


  1. Reference to Forrest & Son retrieved 5 March 2013
  2. OS Explorer Map 252 - Norfolk Coast East. ISBN 978-0-319-23815-8.
  3. The Sheringham Lifeboats, 1838-2000, Publisher: Bengunn 2003, ISBN 0-9533998-1-8
  4. The Fishermen's Lifeboat By Peter Cox & Tim Groves:Published By Sheringham Town Council 1994,ISBN 0-9524810-0-6
  5. Lifeboat Gallantry RNLI medals and how they were won. Edited by:Barry Cox. Published:Spink, London, 1998. Page 150.ISBN 0 907605 89 3
  6. "The Mo, Sheringham Museum". Culture24. Retrieved 13 March 2013. External link in |publisher= (help)
  7. Sheringham, Mo Museum website retrieved 13 March 2013
  8. Sheringham Lifeboats: By Leach, Nicholas and Russell, Paul :Published by landmark Pub Ltd, 2009: ISBN 978-1-84306-473-2
  9. Rescue at Sea, An International History of Lifesaving, Coastal Rescue Craft and Organisations. Author:Clayton Evans. Published by: Conway Maritime Press (Chrysalis Books) 2003. ISBN 0 85177 934 4
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